So I got a call from a reporter at the El Paso Times on Friday afternoon. She was writing a story about a Texas Baptist initiative to put the Gospel in the homes of 10 million Texans by Easter, 2010. I responded to her question, affirmed my response and, reaffirmed it. I had the sense that she was looking for something more “provocative” than I was offering up, since she went to great pains to be sure that I wasn’t “bothered” by the mass-mailing of religious tracts into the homes of Texans (including Jewish Texans).
Truly, what’s to be bothered about? A religious denomination exercising its First Amendment right to express itself freely? I’m not bothered about millions of CDs containing biblical literature and contemporary testimony making their way into Texas homes; I’m thrilled! It means our secular democracy works.
Am I concerned that people are “preying on the souls” of my congregants? Absolutely not. If a person’s grounding in their own faith is so insufficiently rooted that a CD in the mail can lead them to abandon it, then my concerns are serious, but they lay elsewhere. But practically speaking, the “success rate” of this sort of effort in winning my folks’ souls is quite low.
I Facebooked the article a couple of days ago, and one commenter pointed out that the money spent on producing and mailing all those discs would be better spent feeding hungry people. I agree, and also maintain that such an effort would also be better evangelism. If Texas Baptists want to win this Jew’s soul, they’d be better off spending their resources “sharing the Gospel” in a more profound and subtle way: by living their lives in a way that leads me to say “I’ll have what they’re having.”
Jews tend to avoid active proselytizing, and certainly the sort of mass-mail efforts being undertaken by the Southern Baptists. At most, Jews are comfortable opening the door and inviting others in if they so choose. But we are deeply “evangelistic,” if we can see that term through the lens of our call, “you shall be holy, for I, YHVH your God, am holy.” Kiddush Hashem (“making God’s Name holy”) means, at the most basic level, living your life in a way that will bring others to recognize God’s holiness too. When a person becomes interested in Judaism not because of what you tell them, but because of what they see in you, you are a “Jewish evangelist” of the first order.
And the opposite is true as well. The flip side of Kiddush Hashem is Chillul Hashem (“desecrating God’s Name”), and the term can be understood as “acting in a way that makes people question the truth of Judaism’s teachings.” When (to name but two recent examples) a Jew bilks thousands of people out of hundreds of millions of dollars, or a group of nominal “Jewish leaders” use the cover of charitable institutions to launder money for tax cheats and criminals, it’s logical to ask: “How can Judaism claim to be a beneficial path when it produces people like this?”
The bottom line: may all people, of all faiths, be true to the very best their faith traditions have to offer, and may their “proselytizing” consist of nothing more (and nothing less!) than living holy lives. What a world that would be..with less unsolicited direct mail, too!